Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Those annoying Christians

So, how does your organization feel about the representation of Canada shown in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? Inuit art was strongly featured and is totally blended with their religious culture. It was used to represent our northern culture but doesn't represent the majority of Canadians either...yet we show it off to the world as if it is somehow intrinsic to our Canadian existance. Why should their religious beliefs be shown to the world when you would like to quash any mention of our larger and still majority Christian beliefs? I'm sick of the minority telling the majority we have to be tolerant of their beliefs when they are openly hostile to those of the majority. Suck it up...our anthem is beautiful and "God keep our Land" reflects the beliefs of a majority of Canadians in "a" God. I question your statistics. Whether or not Canadians believe in the Christian God, most believe in some kind of higher power or "god" and thus the term God is not offensive to them. Even the Muslims believe in a God named Allah. True Atheists are a very small minority.

The foregoing was a comment -- reproduced exactly as received -- that came to me from a Christian regarding an old posting on this blog about the initiative of the Canadian Secular Alliance to get God written out of the National Anthem of Canada.

I am going to assume the writer to be male for the sake of clarity in what I say next.

I think he displays a level of bigotry towards those of different beliefs or non-belief that ought to be worrying when he couples it with a reference to majority rule.

This is a liberal democracy and one of its hallmarks is that society tries to balance different rights and expectations amongst the citizenry. Clearly, we don’t all share the same beliefs and some of us, like the writer above, disdain those that don’t conform to his own beliefs. He may be “sick” of this balancing act, but I would pass back to him the same advice he gave me; namely, suck it up, because you live in the best country in the world where people of all nations, creeds, cultures and ethnic origins freely go about their lives, cherishing the values, institutions and benefits of our liberal democracy.

Those of us who do not believe in a supreme being don’t wish to “quash any mention” of Christian beliefs. The writer is free to go to any street corner in any town and city in this country, or stand outside any liquor store, and sing Onward Christian Soldiers at the top of his lungs. I can always walk away from him if the lyrics offend me. He can go to his house of worship and do the same thing. I don’t have to enter it and listen. He can pray in his own home, office, car, boat, RV, tent, or what have you.

This is a free country and, even though I don’t believe in flapping angels, talking snakes and all the other colourful stuff handed down to us from the ancient sandal-wearing, Bronze Age, desert-dwellers, I support your freedom to believe any old wives’ tales, myths, legends or other magical kingdom nonsense as you wish.

I don’t have any issue with you freely practicing your religion anywhere with the exception that it should not intrude on public institutions or into public places and in public practices that ought to remain secular and free from religious dogma and to which I may wish to resort or enjoy without first having to pay deference to your deity.

The National Anthem belongs to all Canadians, not just Christian Canadians, or any other deists. So why, if I wish to express my patriotism by singing it in public, am I required to pay homage to God? The words were first penned in 1908 and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the Christians in Parliament decided to inflict their religious beliefs on the rest of us by inserting God into the song.

It is particularly galling to me since I used to sing it joyously at school when it was just a rousing anthem to the country and had not been converted into a song of prayer to the Christian God. Now, I don’t sing it because I find myself stumbling over the God line.

Christians ought to become more familiar with their own religious textbook, the Bible, if they intend spout off on this subject. Matthew 6:6 advises that prayer is supposed to be a private matter, not a public demonstration. You can’t get more public in prayer than invoking God to keep your country strong and free in its national anthem.

The writer displays that all-too-common Christian victim mentality; it is Christians who are being denied their rightful place in the firmament. Get over yourselves. The Roman Empire disappeared nearly two millennia ago. You have come a long way from days of being thrown to the lions, brothers and sisters.

It is pretty funny, not to mention highly annoying, when you consider that Christians are forever banging on your door wanting to push their literature at you. They accost you on street corners, or set up kiosks and booths at public events. They put up billboards declaiming all sorts of radical testimony about the Devil and Darwin. They have their own radio shows and television networks, and on Sunday mornings you really have to channel surf to get away from them.

When was the last time your peace and tranquility was interrupted by a pair of atheist strangers at your front door wanting to engage you in discussion about your beliefs and shoving their secular pamphlets into your hands?

When I drive out in the country I am treated to giant signs urging me to “Repent and accept Christ”. Barns are painted with “Christ is the Answer” slogans. I stop behind cars and read “Jesus is my co-pilot” bumper stickers. Just above that is the little fish symbol. When I spend the weekend at my in-laws in a little town of 500 population, my Sunday morning rest is shattered by loud church bells ringing from a half a dozen nearby Christian churches.

Everywhere I go my senses of sight and sound are assaulted by the Christian God, intruding on my enjoyment of the public space, and offending my sense of reason and my beliefs.

Yet, a year or so ago, when a group of freethinkers decided to have a little fun and launched a short bus ad campaign suggesting the non-existence of God, you would have thought they were advocating the destruction of western civilization. The evangelical leader, Charles McVety, thundered against them as “attack ads”, the Catholic Bishop of Calgary exclaimed how offensive he found these ads. Nearly half the municipalities declined to approve the application for the ads even though some of them had previously approved religious advertising on transit vehicles.

It is odd that these ads can be considered an attack on Christianity, but all of those public promotions of God and Jesus, so beloved of Christians, that I have mentioned, are never seen by them as an attack on atheists. They are.

If it were limited simply to that level of hypocrisy, it might be endurable. But that is not enough for them. Christians get themselves elected or appointed to various boards and commissions and immediately start trying to censor books from public libraries or school libraries that my taxes have paid for. They even go to the extent of trying to ban a writer’s work, not because he wrote anything particularly derogatory about a religion, but because he publicly declared himself to be an atheist.

When did you ever hear of an activist atheist on such a body trying to restrict the circulation of the Bible or other religiously-themed works, or trying to ban works that were not religious, but were written by authors who are Christians? In the United States the activism of Christians has effectively shut down the teaching of the science of evolution in public and high school science classes in many states.

One Christian denomination in Ontario has its own entire school system funded at public expense, even putting the nation in violation of an international treaty to which it is a signatory. Religion is protected as a public charity under the taxing statutes so that its income is sheltered from normal taxation. Its vast property holdings are free from municipal taxation. Religion, and particularly the majority Christian faith, live large and fat off the taxpayers of this country. And we, the non-religious, are expected to have to make up some of the shortfall in tax revenue as a result of these shelters for God with not only no thanks from Christians, but with a sneer.

Who is the real victim in all of this?

It is high time we put an end to the public subsidization of religion. Atheists and the other non-religious folks don’t give a rat’s rectum about your beliefs and your belief institutions, or your entitlement to them, but they should not have to pay for them. You can pay your own way. After all, as you say, you are the great majority, so it shouldn’t be that difficult for you to pony up enough to keep your crosses flying and your fish swimming without picking my pocket while you are scorning me in the process.

Atheists are in indeed a small minority, but including them amongst the category of people who declare no religious affiliation leads to a much larger number. The official statistics can be found in the 2001 Canadian census. Here is an extract from the government of Canada website encapsulating those census results:

In 2001, 7 out of every 10 people still identified themselves as either Roman Catholic or Protestant.

Census data showed a continuation of a long-term downward trend in the population who report Protestant denominations. The number of Roman Catholics increased slightly during the 1990s, but their share of the total population fell marginally.
At the same time, the number of Canadians who reported religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism has increased substantially.

Much of the shift in the nation's religious makeup during the past several decades is the result of the changing sources of immigrants, which has created a more diverse religious profile. As well, many major Protestant denominations that were dominant in the country 70 years ago, such as Anglican and United Church, are declining in numbers, in part because their members are aging and fewer young people are identifying with these denominations.

In addition, far more Canadians reported that they had no religion. This group accounted for 16% of the population in 2001, compared with 12% a decade earlier.
In 2001, Roman Catholics were still the largest religious group, drawing the faith of just under 12.8 million people, or 43% of the population, down from 45% in 1991. The proportion of Protestants, the second largest group, declined from 35% of the population to 29%, or about 8.7 million people.

Combined, the two groups represented 72% of the total population in 2001, compared with 80% a decade earlier.
The population of Canada in 2001 was 30 million, which means that 4,800,000 people ticked the “no religion” box on the form. This is the largest demographic grouping after Christians and is a far larger body of people than all the other religions combined. It is also the fastest growing demographic, as this 2008 Harris-Decima poll indicates.

The next religious census will occur in 2011 and I would fully expect to see much larger numbers of non-believers and a continued erosion of Christian dominance.

Addendum (March 8)

In response to a comment below by Bruce challenging my assertion that there are many states in the U.S. that do not teach evoloution, I reproduce this map that was first published in 2002 in the Scientific American. I do acknowledge, however, that I may be displaying a bias when I attribute the non-teaching to Christian influence on education.


bruce said...

I agree with most of your points, but you're flat out wrong with this claim: "In the United States the activism of Christians has effectively shut down the teaching of the science of evolution in public and high school science classes in many states." Being so wrong undermines the rest of your arguments.

Many states? Hardly. There's a lot of fuss made over it - honestly I think far more fuss then is deserved. A few states have allowed intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution, but I'm not aware of a single state that does not, as a matter of state educational policy, teach evolution at all. Don't get me wrong, I completely oppose teaching intelligent design.

Since you're a Canadian, I don't blame you for getting the impression the US is teetering on the edge - about to reject science in the classroom. The reality is really quite different. The whole panic inflamed about this evolution vs. ID debate hinges on the false premise that if Texas were to use a textbook which presented ID alongside evolution, the rest of the states would purchase this textbook as well, as it would be the only one available. Ostensibly this is because Texas is such a large purchaser of textbooks, that no other state presents a sufficiently large market for a different textbook? California? Part of this panic I think stems from well intentioned science minded people who falsely see a slippery slope where in reality there is not one. Most of the apocalyptic proclamations come, sadly, from people trying to score some quick political points and try to rally the troops in the culture war (that is to say, rally the liberals in the culture war).

Honestly, even if, and this isn't going to happen, evolution were not taught in biology class in most states, it wouldn't make much of a difference at all. The real problem is basic science literacy, intelligence and interest in learning this stuff. The majority of any biology book will be occupied with lipids, DNA, proteins, animal kingdoms, environmental protection and so forth. I was subjected to this "horrible" presentation of intelligent design in my high school class (I'm an 06 grad) - it wasted about half a class period and was entirely forgettable if not for the fact that such a political hoopla has been made out of it. Enough on that subject... I find it really tiresome. :)

As to proselytizing, perhaps the situation is different up north. But I've never been approached by a Christian trying to convert me. Just one scientologist at the shopping mall. In my personal life, I've encountered a few somewhat pedantic evangelical atheists. One in particular wanted me to back him up at the bar a year ago and argue the atheist POV. I'm an atheist, but trying to talk people out of their religious beliefs seems an utter waste of time and is exactly the kind of Proselytizing we complain about them doing.

Navigator said...


Thank you for taking the time to respond in some detail to my posting. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and I wish more of my readers would follow your lead.

With respect to the matter of several states not teaching evolution, I refer you to a map and some explanation of the map found at the website set out below. This map first appeared in a 2002 edition of Scientific American.

Now I agree that it is a stretch to say categorically that those states shown in red are not teaching evolution because of Christian fundamentalist influence, but I cannot think of another good reason why they would not.

Your truly,



Anonymous said...

"I'm sick of the minority telling the majority we have to be tolerant of their beliefs"